zondag 13 oktober 2013

Teaching Life Long Learners

'Everybody says that about me.'
It might be a sentence that does not to seem to have enough content to write an essay about. Something that I am for the moment trying to teach some of my students. Students who are trying to figure out in what direction they want to their life heading for & this the coming 4 or even more years. Very inspiring bunch.  And let this one short sentence now be one of these sentences that sometimes teenagers need to deal with when they try to make up their minds about their future.

In this case I was facing a student during a class of mine and he/she seemed rather lost. Not that he/she wasn't trying to come to terms with the situation. Many signals that I had picked up the last few weeks told me that many of them were busy with browsing through glossy university brochures, coming up with great sentences for their applications, visiting campuses to find out if the sight lived up to their expectation, planning and then hoping that what they wish for also becomes reality.  Oxbridge, Ivy League or just the university around the corner.  It is at that age you have so many options to choose from.  Plus keeping your grades up and handing assignments and tasks in time. Busy times and for many it is an exciting but also a stressful time.

And to make things even more interesting does this student constantly hear that he/she would be a good teacher..... It was a very confronting moment because just a few hours before this took place a co-worker had said as well  that one sentence that everybody seem to be telling about him/her.  My reply was a bit cliché:'Well, what is your opinion about that everybody seems to have this opinion about you?'  The student stayed silent and his/her look told me that he/she was not going to give us an answer.  This was one of those moments that being Edward Cullen would have come in handy.

The thing is that I have seen this student in action with primary students and yes he/she is for sure a fitting canditate for teaching.  Yes, I was tempted to say the same about him/her but I was holding back. Why? Well, that is a bit complicated.   I was still digesting the newsreports covering the teacher's training in my nation. And nope, it was not all milk and honey what I came across. The numbers were very striking.  Overall, most of the students that pursue are students that have a not all a very academic background.  What I do not consider even that big of an issue.  What was more alarming is that a certain big number of people who do teach teachers to be have never been teachers! 

Not that there have not made any attempts but I have to say that what I did end up reading on the front page of my newspapers were very confronting.   Yes, I take news reports sometimes rather  personal. But hey, I am teacher and once I was a student teacher and once I was a student who had to make up her mind what she wanted to be once she had her secondary diploma in her hands.

So how I did get from 'I don't know what to be' to 'I have figured it out'?  Well, I knew already quite that I wanted to do something with children. My first idea was nursing or nanny. The idea of taking care of others their children seemed very appealing to me. But I had no real plan or preference. Others around me were dreaming of becoming an engineer, doctor, vet, physiotherapist, nurse, actor, journalist,....  In a way I did envy these people because they did seem to know what they were after. I was lost and nope to be honest many of the teachers (and I had some amazing secondary teachers who are still an inspiration) seem not to be very straight forward with me when it came down to study advice.

Oh, I did some of these cliché placement tests and the outcome of them was also not that clear.  The 'it is only a test' & 'it is only advice'-attitude was for me the best way to deal with them. In the end I was going to be architect of my own future. Picking out my profession was my first adult decision I got make and I wasn't going to do this overnight.  So I took my time and when I finally signed up for classes after a rather big detour I was still not sure that it was the right choice. And then I found out what becoming a teacher did really involve... Nobody seem to have told me.... What a surprise?

Nope, becoming a teacher wasn't a walk through the park.  Teaching college was hard work and it was sometimes like hitting a wall. There is nothing fun of having to face a lesson plan that is soaked in red ink. The advice that many of my professors gave me did not always sound straight forward.  There were days that the best thing was pasta bolognaise with grilled cheese and tabasco or a movie ticket.  And I still remember very vividly the days that I got out of classroom sweating and trembling because I did not feel confident or satisfied.  The feedback sheets I sometimes wanted to put through the shredder. Or there were those exams that  I felt so out of place in the big cruel wold where there did seem to be going on a certain kind of conspiracy. 

It wasn't for sure that they have given me that one boarding pass with a serious discount.  There were days that I could curse some of professors. Literature classes were like a race against ticking time bomb and during history lessons you had to come up with amazing creative ideas to get your lesson approved.  The phonetic course made my head spin, the pedagogical courses did sometimes sound like Chinese&keeping up with the subscription of Time Magazine was also challenging.   The religion courses did sometimes make my brain go in overdrive.  I have analysing parts of that bible while I was thinking what this even had to do with teaching. 

The people who made me do all of these things not all have been secondary teachers. I am very sure that most of them have not spend a very long time in a class filled up with teenagers that are filled up with hormones or that they are fully aware that a lesson plan is not always the guarantee that your lesson will work.  Have I ever questioned my teaching-teachers? Oh yes, I did!  Big time!!  And there even has been a specific moment that my mother had to talk me into car when I was about to give up all together because things did not go according to plan. My plan! I hit rock and bottom during that period in my life.  I had no plan B because I had been so sure when I had signed up for teaching that this was it!  At that moment I was back to square one...

But then nobody had told me what it would be really like and what it would take to make it to the finish line. And even when I made it that it would be only the beginning of something even harder. The real life, the real classroom where every single theory would be tested over and over again.  I found out very fast that I was going to be a life long learner. I had to learn it the hard and sometimes painful way... 

When I did graduate 3 years later I knew for sure that I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to be a special teacher. I wanted to stand out in what I did and I wanted to make sure that every lesson was special. So I entered the world of special needs. Did hang out one more year at the campus and ended up in a special need classrooms for an unforgettable student teaching period.  It is in that crucial period of my life I sensed something that I never had felt while I was in classes. Something very strong, something that made me believe that I made the right choice.

On top of that I also  found out that teaching is something that is complex, endless challenging, can't be wrapped up in one lesson plan, takes more then a red and green marker and then there comes that moment that a student teacher walks into your classroom....  Suddenly I sat there where I never imagined to be sitting. I can tell you that facing fresh teaching meat is sometimes like being warped back into time.

I am still learning and every day I put myself and my profession at risk... So if you are considering to become a teacher then this means you need to have an open mind and be ready to be constantly under attack. Society does have got high expectation of its human beings and where do these mortal souls learn many of their survival techniques? Oh yes, rightly so to demand qualified teachers in order to 'coach' your human capital.  But it will take more then just introducing six work groups, creating new language tool kits, updating lesson plans, introducing more IT in the classroom, re-evaluating studies that already have been done a million times, visiting Finland and call it the land of milk and honey....

Pupils come in different shapes and forms, they are all 'special', they all need special attention, they all wish for a 'special' teacher.  Let us face it we all wished for that one teacher that managed to ignite something that made learning so much more fun and at the same time made us long for more knowledge.  But learning we do all in a different ways. So this demands many kinds of teachers and I am tempted that I do not believe in screening students to find out if they would make perfect teachers beforehand. It takes more then just that. And we might miss out one a few diamonds in the rough.

This morning while drinking a very lovely cup of George Clooney coffee (Dulsao do Brasil-taste!!!) I read this passage in the newspapers: 'I do know that he is fast, and that he can score, but Romelu still has to take some steps. He doesn't understand yet how he has to use his body, how he has to hold on to a ball- it is not normal that I am the one to tell him these things while Romelu already is an international.' Well, coach Marc Wilmots, perhaps someone else has forgotten to tell him or he might have trouble hearing you? Repetition can never hurt  Or what about the transfer between theory into the real life practice? Long Life Learner, get it coach?

I bet Wilmots does know!  Why? He has been there, played under pressure, sat on the bench, ran after that ball against all odds, kept focused, had his two feet firmly down to the ground to protect himself of disappointment but most of all he believed strongly in learning step by step. He was  called slow, not good enough to play in the offensive, he was this and that....But today he still  strongly believes in something that we all need when we learn and this that we all need to have people standing behind us who have got faith in us and this against all odds.

Because let us be honest a few years ago we did make fun of out national football team. They were never going to learn, never ever get their act together,  never get to play with the big guys, they were David and the rest of the world Golliath. Well, tell that to Malala Yousafzai when she stood up for her right for education? (BTW calling Malala too young to receive a Nobel Prize I did not buy! I wasn't aware that their is an age limit when you try to carry out the message of peace!)  Or tell that to the Nobel Prize winners of this world. Some of them had to wait quite a long time to get the recognition they did deserve. Life Long Learners! 

Is that particular student who enters frequently my classroom fit for such particular combat situation? Is he/she ready for being a life long learner and at the same time trying to teach what he/she thinks need all his/her special pupils. Is he/she up to enter that incredible challenging world of teaching where the world is constantly changing in front of your eyes?  Well, if he/she looked close enough he/she might have already found out..

 PS: I did pick out two clips that are in a way contrasts 'Freedom Writers'& 'Dead Poet Society' because these movies do tell me a lot about how youngsters need to deal with making choices in such an early stage in their lives. Plus that if a teacher stands out that he/she meets up with some people that questions constantly his/her approach.  When is a teacher 'the perfect' teacher? I guess we all teach and learn in different ways. Please tell me now that nobody is perfect... but that we can be all inspiring if we open up and are willingly to learn.  I still haven't stopped!  I am still dreaming along with my pupils and don't plan to stop!

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